clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Commentary: Time for the NHLPA to step up

If nonsense like this is going to stop, relying only on the NHL to stop it isn't enough.
If nonsense like this is going to stop, relying only on the NHL to stop it isn't enough.

Author's note: no, this is not the third part of the Checkers series, which was derailed by life late last week. I'll have that done no later than Wednesday, but wanted to get this out before it was old news.

It's apparent to anyone paying any bit of attention recently that frontier justice is, for whatever reason, alive and well in the playoffs this season. NHL chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan has been raked over the coals for some seriously inconsistent rulings, including a much-derided $2,500 fine to the Nashville Predators' Shea Weber for pummeling the head of Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg into the glass, WWE-turnbuckle style.

Each time Shanahan has made a ruling (or has taken no action), the uproar has begun instantaneously on Twitter, wondering what in the world he is thinking. It always follows the same script: "I can't believe {player X} [only got/didn't get] {Y games/a fine/a darned thing}! Doesn't Shanahan remember that {player Z} got {something else} for the same play?"

I have another question: where in the world is the NHL Players' Association in this whole process?

There's an extremely vocal minority, mostly composed of media members, who take pride in jumping on the NHL every time something happens. This minority, by and large, contains folks who are staunch supporters of the NHLPA, which represents every single player on every roster in the NHL.

Yes, including those players who suffer injuries, and those players who dole out the injuries.

Why does the NHLPA get a free pass, but the NHL is subject to endless ridicule and a disciplinary process (with reaction) that would make King Solomon throw up his hands and walk away?

Once upon a time I worked at a grocery store that was unionized, even though North Carolina is a right to work state and I could not be forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Regardless, the union still represented me. I have no doubt in my mind that if I ran through the produce department terrorizing my fellow employees with rogue stalks of celery that not only would my employer have something to say about it, but the union would as well.

Why? The union's role, among other things, is to ensure a safe working environment for all of its members.

Can the NHLPA say that it's doing that right now, after we've seen circuses like the Penguins/Flyers sideshow yesterday afternoon?

Of course it can't. And something needs to change, right now.

It's not enough for the union - or, more specifically, its apologists in the media - to scream bloody murder and wonder why the NHL won't do [x]. I know that the "culture of respect" is an overdone meme, but it's something that needs to be reinforced, and quite frankly it isn't solely the NHL's job to do it.

It requires peer pressure. It requires the NHLPA to actually take a stand on the headshot and concussion epidemic, which to this point they haven't done, and stand up and say in no uncertain terms "this is unacceptable." Platitudes are nice, but for the culture to change the PA has to take an active role in effecting the change.

Shanahan's position at the NHL is a creation of the Board of Governors, which is to say, the owners. They are looking to protect their investments, nothing more. That can't be the only portion of the story.

The players themselves need to take a role in this as well.

As for all those castigating Shanahan for that ridiculous $2,500 fine on Weber, which swung the pendulum in the other direction and probably led directly to the Rangers' Carl Hagelin getting three games for a flying elbow to Daniel Alfredsson's head?

That fine amount is specified in the collective bargaining agreement, meaning the NHLPA signed off on it. Why would they sign off on it? Because they're all about the players making the most money they can. The next time we hear the union complaining that a fine is too small or a suspension isn't long enough will be the first time.

You don't think the NHL would have fined players worlds more than that drop-in-the-bucket amount if they could? But they can't, thanks to the CBA which, again, was agreed to by both sides. It wasn't forced on the NHLPA any more than the PA forced the holiday trade freeze on the league.

The union has a choice: either they can be part of the problem or part of the solution. Right now, with their inaction, they're part of the problem.

The situation is serious enough now that inaction is no longer acceptable.

The ball's in your court, Donald Fehr.